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Top 5 pandemic lessons learned from successful entrepreneurs

Photo by Michael Browning

The last year has been brutal for most businesses, and few industries have been harder hit than hospitality. Amid some very dark days, a bright spot has been hearing stories of perseverance and seeing our community come together to help each other out. 

So many smart people from the industry have generously shared their time, stories, struggles, and advice on the Full Comp podcast, now in our third season. As I reflect back on season two, a few guests and lessons stand out as shining lights for all of us as we approach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic that forced us to transform our businesses, practically overnight.

1. Tell your story

Kat Cole of Focus Brands beautifully explained why our story is what matters most in this moment.

“Lean into your founder’s story. People want to support people, and customers are learning that there is a human behind their restaurant. If they didn’t know it before, they really know it now. So find ways to tell your story.”

Kat Cole
Photo by Patrick Heagney

2. Go all-in on customer service

Best-selling author Seth Godin set the standard for excellence in customer service.

“The point still remains: Customer service is a tool, it is a choice, and if you’re going to do it, doing it 80% of the way is stupid. We got to figure out how to do it all the way. Farther than anybody else is willing to go. That’s how you build an empire like Danny Meyer did.”

Seth Godin

3. Embrace your whole business—even the parts you don’t love

Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park proved exactly why he’s the best restaurateur in the world.

“If you put just as much focus and creativity into what’s on the plate and how you put on that plate on the table, how you’re welcoming someone through the doors, and how to make sure that your chemical expense is in line. It’s all just as important. There’s too many cultures where there’s almost just like acceptance that certain people just aren’t good at that. I think that’s absurd. People convince themselves they’re not good at something if they don’t really enjoy doing it, but there is enjoyment to be had and everything so long as you’re competitive enough that you rise to the challenge. I didn’t have a science beyond that.”

Will Guidara

4. Take a critical look at yourself

Chef Irene Li of Mei Mei took us inside her personal and professional path to rebuilding her restaurant.

“I think that shook my own faith in myself in the idea of running a business as a way to drive change and innovation. I feel like I took a huge step back to think about why am I ultimately doing this? What is it that makes me happy in my job? And yeah, absolutely wondering, is the expansion plan that we had before something that makes any sense now?”

5. Find you why and let it guide you

Tee Tran of Monster Pho started his business with genuine hospitality as the focus and priority, and he spent the pandemic literally giving away food. His generosity inspired the entire San Francisco community and prompted NBA star Stephen Curry to donate $25,000 in support of his efforts. 

“Go back to why you wanted to do this. Everyone has a different answer, but if you go back to what made you happy in the first place, that becomes your foundation.”

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